Thursday 17 October 2019

The Tricky Argument That Dieting Makes People Fatter

Dieting and SuccessAs the whole Kurbo disaster has unfolded (in case you missed it, Weight Watchers – aka WW [insert eye roll here] decided that their best move was to harm children with a diet app which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that their shareholders filed a class-action lawsuit based in large part around their decrease in adult subscribers.)

Of the many, many (OMG so many) arguments that were made against the catastrophic atrocity, one that I saw a lot was that dieting is likely to make kids fatter than they would be otherwise. This is a tricky argument and I want to get into that today.

Now, when I talk about “dieting” I mean any intentional attempt to alter food intake and/or movement in order to decrease body size. Yes it counts as a diet even if someone calls it a “lifestyle change” (sure it is  – you change to a lifestyle where you diet all the time.)

First of all, based on the research it’s absolutely true. It turns out that one of the many negative effects of giving a body less food than it needs to survive in the hopes that it will eat itself and become smaller, is that the body’s famine defenses kick in and alter it to become a weight gaining, weight-maintaining machine.

Would the victims of diet culture have been smaller without their history of dieting? Maybe. What’s important is that a smaller body is not a better body – bodies come in lots of sizes for lots of reasons, and people of all sizes are fully worthy of respect.

And that’s the issue with this argument. Though it’s true that dieting is likely to leave people fatter than they were when they started, using that as an argument against dieting is inherently fatphobic since its core premise is still that we want to avoid people becoming fat/fatter.

That said, we live in a fatphobic society and dieting and the diet culture it creates have real negative consequences to physical and mental health, and so this argument can also be considered a harm reduction strategy. It can be seen as a drop of fatphbobia in the fatphobia bucket, but if it keeps a parent from putting their child on a diet for example, it may be worth it in a cost-benefit analysis.

There are things that we can do to improve this argument by the way that we frame it.

After I explain statistics around dieting and weight gain I’ll often say something like “so even if you believe that fat people would be healthier if we were thinner – and I don’t agree – dieting is still the worst possible advice you could give us.”

The truth is that there are actual health risks to dieting which I think are important to point out, saying something like “It’s not that weight gain is, in and of itself, the problem. The problem is that dieting changes a person’s physical and mental response to food and movement and can lead to health issues including everything from weight cycling to prompting an eating disorder,”

I most often use this argument when I’m speaking to healthcare providers about whether or not dieting meets the requirements of ethical, evidence-based medicine (spoiler alert – it doesn’t.) When I make this point, I try to always counter any fatphobia inherent in the argument by saying something like – “there’s nothing wrong with people being fat, but there is something wrong with giving a supposed medical intervention that has the opposite of the intended effect the majority of the time.” Or “I don’t think the evidence suggests that a larger body is a medical problem to be solved, but as long as HCPs are trying to treat weight loss as if it’s a medical intervention, then we have to talk about whether or not it meets the basic requirements of ethical, evidence-based medicine.” 

If we are using the argument as a harm-reduction strategy, we can try to remove some of the fatphboia by saying something like “The Kurbo app creates physical and mental health risks and, even if you believe that kids would be healthier if they were thinner, there’s no evidence that this app will any kid thinner or healthier. In fact, experts from multiple fields agree that this app will do great harm.

The fact that diets don’t work is an important thing to talk about – especially since they are sold to us a healthcare intervention (of course, being thinner and being healthier are two different things  and dieting almost never results in either.) Still, there are plenty of reasons to eschew dieting besides the fact that the most common outcome is weight gain, and the fact that this argument can add to fatphobia is something we can try to mitigate when we make it.

Was this post helpful? If you appreciate the work that I do, you can support my ability to do more of it with a one-time tip or by becoming a member. (Members get special deals on fat-positive stuff, a monthly e-mail keeping them up to date on the work their membership supports, and the ability to ask me questions that I answer in a members-only monthly Q&A Video!)

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Body Love Obstacle Course

This e-course that includes coaching videos, a study guide, and an ebook with the tools you need to create a rock-solid relationship with your body. Our relationships with our bodies don’t happen in a vacuum, so just learning to see our beauty isn’t going to cut it. The world throws obstacles in our way – obstacles that aren’t our fault, but become our problem. Over the course of this program, Ragen Chastain, Jeanette DePatie, and six incredible guest coaches will teach you practical, realistic, proven strategies to go above, around, and through the obstacles that the world puts in front of you when it comes to living an amazing life in the body you have now.
Price: $99.00
($79.00 for DancesWithFat members – register on the member page)

Wellness for All Bodies ProgramA simple, step-by-step, super efficient guide to setting and reaching your health goals from a weight-neutral perspective.  This program can be used by individuals, or by groups, including as a workplace wellness program!
Price: $25.00 ($10 for DancesWithFat members – register on the member page)

Love It! 234 Inspirations And Activities to Help You Love Your Body
This is filled with thoughtful advice from the authors Jeanette DePatie, Ragen Chastain, and Pia Sciavo-Campo as well as dozens of other notable names from the body love movement, the book is lovingly illustrated with diverse drawings from size-positive artist Toni Tails.
Price: $9.99 softcover, $7.99 Kindle, ($6.95 + free shipping for DancesWithFat Members)

Non-Members click here for all the details and to register!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!  (DancesWithFat Members get an even better deal, make sure to make your purchases from the Members Page!)

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

I’m (still!) training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at .

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.











via Dances With Fat